Fugitive fossil fuel billionaire Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is proposing that a comprehensive universal wealth transfer – as opposed to the “broad term payment” favoured by many environmental organizations – should be part of a solution to the climate crisis. Instead of taxing greenhouse gases or imposing carbon pricing, the wealthy should pay for a grand swap in global reserves of “unburnable carbon” from the top to the bottom of the economic ladder.
Schellnhuber, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, has recently advised Michael Bloomberg to embark on an environmental scheme by sending a check to every political leader. Although he’s no stranger to controversy, the sixty-one-year-old geologist and mathematician is genuinely considered one of the world’s top climate scientists and policymakers. “This seems to be the only feasible way for future humanity to dig out from under its greatest disaster, the accelerating and dangerous warming of the Earth’s atmosphere,” he wrote in an op-ed for Bloomberg on March 23.
“We are asking for a worldwide transfer of existing fossil fuel reserves to benefit the average global citizen,” he explained. To prevent the Earth from getting warmer by 3 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, Schellnhuber proposed a transfer of $12 trillion a year from the world’s richest families to the world’s poorest. All of that money would come from the free market, not from government intervention.
The transfer would not be a giveaway, but rather a condition to implement the policies necessary to mitigate climate change. Schellnhuber’s detailed plan offers a number of alternative ways to source the $12 trillion, including the public trading of tradable emissions permits and new investment projects. Just like with an ordinary stock, if this isn’t accepted by shareholders, there’s no point in allowing them to trade it. There would be new incentives for investment, because a “carbon zero future” would be attractive for companies, who would want to build their own “carbon negative plants.”
His scheme calls for an international agreement to govern the system, and he warned that some might refuse because of geo-political concerns. This could require a treaty signed by the two superpowers, the United States and China. Even within Europe, the plans may encounter resistance. Pro-austerity policymakers would view it as expensive giveaways to foreign populations, as government is the major force behind inflation.